Bank Americard’s Back. What’s To learn?

In April of 2006, Bank of America announced that it would consider dumping Visa in favor of its own credit card network named BankAmericard. The announcement isn’t all to the story. Because actually, Bank of Americard sort of brought the cards back in the summer of 2005, albeit as a co-branded Visa. The offering read: “In 1958, before there was Visa, Bank of America introduced the first credit card to the world–the BankAmericard.”

It was evidence of a great trick for old brands. If they are sitting dusty on an old corporate shelf, bring them back as a niche sub-product. A year later, you can use that recovered goodwill to knock those pesky and pushy suppliers back into place.

Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis summed it up to the Wall Street Journal: “I’m not real happy at this point that we built that brand when we could have been spending money on the Bank of America brand.”

Go to it old K.L. Keep the old Visa in check! I am sure you made a lot of friends in retail by this one.

Old credit card brands, like other old brands, do have some life. Citigroup is doing a great job at keeping Diners Club alive in the U.S., and it has an overseas component seemingly stronger in Europe and Asia. Overseas, Diners Club is cool. And interestingly, Bank Americard still lives on in Italy.

Diners Club was the first credit card, debuting in 1950 when “diner” Frank McNamara forgot his wallet. Since then, the card has conveyed an image of exclusivity by not advertising that much, only marketing to select groups and keeping an international profile. And Citigroup revived Carte Blanche in 2000. Carte Blanche has a fascinating history too. It was originally Hilton’s credit card brand. It connotes a certain Nicky Hilton/Elizabeth Taylor sort of 60s Hilton glamor thing. Paris Hilton could easily be given one, if she would only say “My Carte Blanche (mostly) keeps me out of trouble.”

Taking advantage of this history is smart. There is the obvious connection that BankAmericard and Bank of America are close relations, word wise. But reconnecting with the BankAmericard legacy helps Bank of America position itself. Bank name changes are so frequent, customers get confused. Anything that helps anchor a consumer helps a company stand out from the others.

In addition, the use of the brand on a co-branded VISA card helps Bank of America keep the brand equity and trademark alive in case it does need for a big future use, even if it’s just bluster.

Because of frequent mergers, banks are the nation’s worst offenders at killing of brand names. Banks can spend millions on branding a new bank name, and then drop it in favor of another overnight. This waste has had some benefits. Startups like Virginia National Bank have snapped up old bank names decades after they have been retired, and captured all that goodwill that the large banks have wasted. But are there other smaller product brands that might have life, especially for smaller regional banks looking for a leg up?

So look on those shelves, you banks. Are there old ATM brands that you have forgotten? I liked Cashflow and Most. The Bank of Virginia had Bank of Virginia Charge Plan and Ginny. Virginia National Bank had Cashflow.

A few rules for us to learn today are listed below

BrandlandUSA brand preservation rule #1: Keep an old brand around, somehow, as you might need it for a product later on. You don’t have to feature it, or spend money on advertising.

BrandlandUSA brand preservation rule #2: If an old brand is not strong enough to stand on its own, use it as a sub-brand of a larger brand. It can always stay as the sub-brand, or one day go back out on its own.

Rule 3: Look to your foreign markets as places to “shelve” your old brands. It doesn’t make sense that BankAmericard lives on in Italy, but it does.

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